- Published on Friday, 12 October 2012 23:12
- Written by Super User
Freeman Park on the North End of Pleasure Island. The park is one of a handful of places on the east coast that permits paid 4x4 vehicle access to drive on the beach.
By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
CAROLINA BEACH - The Carolina Beach Town Council continued discussions about adjusting rates for vehicles driving onto the beach at Freeman Park.
In September Councilman Lonnie Lashley said raising vehicle access passes for Freeman Park to $100 for everyone across the board would generate nearly $300,000 a year to help fund future beach nourishment and inlet dredging projects.
At the Council's October 9th, meeting Owens said at a recent meeting of the Freeman Park Committee, numerous issues were discussed including additional trash containers on busy weekends, enhanced fire protection, reconstructing a park dedication sign, allocating funds to a Rachel Freeman scholarship at UNCW and fee changes.
Owens said of the fees, "They basically want to only consider selling $60 passes from December 1st to January 15th, which is a shorter time frame."
Owens said the committee expressed a concern that changes are being made at the park without seeking their input. He said another concern is dumping of portable "camping toilets." Camping is permitted within the park in certain areas.
Owens said, "Our public works department... at times people dump those in the blue barrels, trashcans, and what happens is, when they dump that with the can truck or even by hand... it's an issue." He said one idea was to place barrels specifically for that purpose and they are researching that with the public works department. If there's no way to adequately deal with the issue, Owens said an ordinance could be adopted to ban their use.
Freeman Park is one of the few areas on the east coast that permits four-wheel drive vehicles on the beach. Camping and campfires are permitted in designated areas. Each vehicle is required to display a pass to enter the park. The cost of the season permit is $60.00 from January 1 to March 31. After March 31, the cost of the annual permit is $100. Daily passes are $20.00 at the entrance. Weekend passes are $40 for 2 days and $50 for 3 days.
Owens said for fees, "If you eliminated the $60 fee structure altogether you're looking at an additional $278,000 coming to the Town coffers. We talked about putting that aside for beach nourishment or inlet dredging or other items that are resource oriented."
He said, "If you decided to raise the fee in general, in twenty dollar increments you're looking at $120,000 per increment. Obviously as you go higher and kind of price people out of purchasing those tickets it could be less."
Lashley said, "This Council should always look for creative ways to generate revenue for us as well as" look for ways to cut expenditures.
He said, "I do not want to raise taxes... that is not an optional thing. That's a commitment to our taxpayers." He said he's not in favor of a higher tax for districts closer to the water to pay for future beach nourishment projects.
He said, "I want to address something where it's not a tax increase or fee that addresses all of our citizens. That's the reason I spoke about eliminating the $60 tickets."
He said he likes the suggestion from the Freeman Park Committee for six weeks in December and January.
Lashley said he would also favor only selling those discounted tickets at Town Hall. Currently people can purchase those tickets at various retail locations throughout Town.
Lashley said, "The reason we have the $60 tickets is to help our citizens and unfortunately the group of people that buy our annual tickets are taking advantage of that. Roughly only about 10% of our citizens buy the" discounted passes.
He said by restricting those sales to Town Hall, it would stop people from out of Town buying those passes over the Internet and force them to pay full price.
Lashley said he wasn't in favor of raising the fee overall but favors the committee's recommendation in order to generate additional revenues. He said using those additional funds, the Town Council should vote to put away $400,000 a year for beach nourishment or beach maintenance projects.
Owens said if the park brings in $900,000 a year, "I'm saying we put about $600,000 back into Freeman Park whether it be officers or sweeping up sand. That $300,000 extra dollars is part of the budget and all mingled into the Tourism Fund" for expenditures such as parking.
Councilman Bob Lewis said Council could set up a capital improvement fund for beach nourishment and inlet dredging to dedicate funds.
Council member Sarah Friede said she's concerned with restricting discounted pass sales to Town Hall due to increased traffic at Town Hall.
Councilman Steve Shuttleworth said the Town could pick a location and, "The idea is, if you want a discounted ticket come to Carolina Beach in person for that six week period... and if our residents want that ticket they will find the time between Monday through Friday from 8am to 5pm to stop in over their lunch hour and pick up a ticket for $60."
Shuttleworth said if not Town Hall, they could restrict annual pass sales to the Lanier Parking office across the street for that six-week period.
Owens said it's too early prior to planning for next year's budget to commit to capturing $400,000 to dedicate as proposed by Lashley.
Shuttleworth said, "If we set the number at $400,000 you could always come back and plead poverty."
Owens said, "I may have trouble balancing the budget next year, but that's fine."
Lashley said, "We hear that every year."
The Council voted unanimously to adopt the December 1st through January 15th limit for the discounted annual passes to be sold at Town Hall or Lanier Parking office and to dedicate a minimum of $400,000 set aside from Freeman Park for future beach maintenance projects.
Mayor Ray Rothrock was not present at the meeting.
Town Manager Tim Owens said in September, "At this point there is an interlocal agreement between all of the beach towns and the county that says in the event that there is no federal or state funding the Room Occupancy Tax (ROT) funds would pick up 82.5% of beach nourishment projects and the Town would pick up 17.5% of the project."
The Towns of Carolina Beach and Kure Beach traditionally receive beach nourishment projects at the same time to save money.
Projects have historically been paid for by federal, state and local funds yet in recent years those funds are becoming increasingly unpredictable and hard to obtain. This year the Town of Kure Beach received no federal or state funding for an upcoming project starting later this year. The Town of Carolina Beach and the County worked out a way to shift money from the Carolina Beach portion of the project to help fund Kure Beach. The Town Council is now faced with putting away money to fund beach nourishment projects every three years to protect the tourism industry, life and property.